Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Disruption as Opportunity

Disruption as Opportunity

By Jessica Owley

Jessica Owley is Professor of Law at University of Buffalo Law School

This is the seventh in a series of essays from the Environmental Law Collaborative on the theme: "Environmental Law. Disrupted."

  1. Environmental Disruption.

The world has always been full of disturbances, alterations, and disruptions. This has been particularly true when examining the ecological conditions of the Earth. Our planet has undergone many changes, even some drastic ones. Yet, the current rate of environmental disruption is unquestionable and unprecedented. Climate change is clearly the major disruptor, changing our atmosphere, our ocean currents, and our ecosystems. Humans are a particularly destructive species though and even without the implications of climate change, we are disrupting the environment. We convert species habitat. We pollute rivers. We overhunt. Our current historical environmental atrocities, however, seem trivial in the context of climate change. Particularly tricky is the unpredictability of climate change impacts and intensities.

  1. Legal Disruption.

Complicating the environmental disruption is an increased disruption of the American legal system. In the 1970s, the federal government began acknowledging environmental harms in our country and creating legal strategies to combat them. The goal of the Clean Air Act (1970) is to prevent and control air pollution. The Clean Water Act (1972) seeks to eliminate the discharge of pollutants into the nation’s waters. The Endangered Species Act (1973) recognizes the negative impacts of humans on the environment and seeks a “means whereby the ecosystems upon which endangered species … depends may be conserved.” And with the clearest acknowledgement of human impacts on the environment, the National Environmental Policy Act (1970) recognizes “the profound impact of man’s activities” on the natural world and sets a national policy to “prevent or eliminate damage to the environment and biosphere and stimulate the health and welfare of [hu]man[s].”

While the effectiveness of these laws and the strategies they adopted is open for debate, they represented an awareness of environmental harm and a need to combat it. All of these statutes and others are now under attack from the Trump Administration and the Republican Congress. The Administration is seeking repeal and revision of the statutes along with changes to regulations and agency policies. Beyond the laws on the books, the Administration is also disrupting federal environmental law by dismantling the agencies that carry out those laws. The number of employees is shrinking along with departmental budgets. Science posts are being removed or left unfilled and scientific reports and language specifically prohibited or hidden.

While the assault on the panoply of existing federal environmental programs is disheartening, federal climate change policy is truly depressing. In 1992, world leaders (along with many others) met in Brazil and acknowledged the intense environmental, economic, and social problems caused by global climate change. Agreeing that the cause was “anthropogenic,” President George Bush  signed the agreement and applauded the countries of the world in taking quick action to combat the serious problem of climate change. Despite this statement (and the U.S. role in shaping both the initial agreement and subsequent accords), the federal government has never been a true leader in the fight against climate change. However, the Trump Administration’s actions in this realm are so radical as to again merit the label disruptive. Shortly after taking office, Donald Trump announced withdrawal of the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement. Even more insulting, the only significant U.S. delegation at the last conference of the parties to that 1992 treaty preached increased use of fossil fuels.  As with the disruption to our environment, the disruption to our environmental laws is unprecedented.

  1. Disruption as an Opportunity

The real conundrum for environmental activists and humans who care about the world is determining what to do in the face of this disruption. The paragraphs above paint a bleak picture and suggest that disruption is doing significant harm. A challenge then is whether we can turn that attitude on its head and make these disruptions opportunities. At our 2018 ELC meeting, Vanessa Casado Perez noted that crisis, hitting rock bottom, is what really spurs human action on environmental issues. If things are really falling apart at the federal government, maybe this disruption of environmental law will trigger new energy and action from other sectors. Disruptions in innovation are changes to technologies that can help sectors (and sometimes even societies) leap ahead to a new level. Creative ideas lead to new solutions.

One sphere where this environmental and legal disruption is inspiring action is in the private sector. While Inara Scott reminds  us that the business sector can be a force for positive change there is also a strength in individuals acting on their own or joining force with the power of nongovernmental organizations. In this light, a turn to the private seems both logical and sensible. Citizens seek to fill in the gaps left by a withdrawn federal government. It is unclear whether they can work as effectively toward reducing the harms of ecological disruption, but in a time of legal disruption their efforts gain prominence. Three examples highlight this trend.

Citizen Science and Information Protection: As government agencies began scrubbing their websites of environmental information, particularly discussions of climate change, others began archiving the information and making it available. Private organizations like the Environmental Data and Governance Initiative formed shortly after information began disappearing from public websites. Groups that had formed earlier for other reasons (like associations of librarians)  also took up the cause of protecting and providing information when they saw the need arise. Additionally, while the EPA may be employing fewer scientists, people across the planet are stepping up and collecting data to aid in scientific research and environmental monitoring.  The rise of the citizen scientist is an innovation that can improve environmental information and outcomes if deployed correctly.

Increasing Support of Environmental NGOs and Land Trusts: After the election of Donald Trump, donations to environmental advocacy organizations rose. Public attention to environmental issues can be seen in events like the March for Science and the Peoples Climate Movement. Gallup’s most recent polls show concern for the environment growing in the United States, even as fewer people identify themselves as environmentalists. Land trusts are an interesting part of this trend. Like other environmental organizations, they also saw their membership numbers and dollars increase post-Trump. Their focus differs from traditional environmental advocacy organizations as they seek to meet their conservation goals through protection of individual parcels and working with property tools. By purchasing land and rights in land, they seek to prevent development and conversion of land to uses that diminish ecosystem services and amenities. Working with private landowners, they often bring new people into the conservation movement. Through working with property rights, they create restrictions that are more durable than federal regulatory mechanisms.

Citizen Suits: Finally, despite a hollowing out of our environmental laws, activists are drawing upon the citizen suit provisions contained in many of our key environmental statutes. While there have been some proposals that would impact some of the fee-shifting provisions of citizen suits, neither Congress nor the Executive branch has suggested repealing citizen suit provisions or revising the Administrative Procedure Act, which often provides the hook for environmental litigation. Law firms are preparing for an increase in environmental citizen suits and the environmental activists seem happy to comply. Thus, we can still look to our 1970s law for some solace even though we must acknowledge the standing hurdles for environmental citizen suits are nontrivial.

These examples illustrate how energy and innovation by private actors can be part of the story of response to the current disruption of environmental law. Taken together with other examples and proposals in these essays, they can provide us with a way forward if not quite a way out.

November 13, 2018 in Air Quality, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Current Affairs, Governance/Management, Land Use, Law, North America, Science, US | Permalink

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Why Environmental Law Professors Should Watch "Through the Wormhole"

Happy Independence Day, everyone!

      Unfortunately, I am spending my day with a health issue. By way of a silver lining, that gave me the perfect excuse to catch up on episodes of "Through the Wormhole."  All of which has led me to conclude: If you're still a stranger to "Through the Wormhole," you shouldn't be. (And, by the way, the first two seasons are readily available through Netflix and probably a lot of other services.)

     So, why make the effort to watch?

(1) If you like environmental law, the chances are good that you have at least a passing interest in science. This is cutting-edge science, presented in a very intelligent format.

(2) Okay, it's mostly physics (and mostly of the quantum/cosmological type) -- but how often do we get to go there?

(3) Morgan Freeman hosts. 'Nuf said.

(4) But none of that would be enough on its own for me to feature the show on this blog. The real reason that I think "Through the Wormhole" is worth the effort for environmental law professors is that the show provides EXCELLENT examples of how to teach complex scientific concepts. Each episode starts with a plain English, common-sense explanation of why what you're about to learn is important. You then get some normal-life analogy to explain what the scientists are doing -- for example, smashing a watch becomes analogous to smashing atoms. But the best part of the show are the visuals it treats you to -- pictures, animations, special effects (aliens morphing into scientists being my favorite so far), and all manner of scientific illustrations and data displays -- while the scientists and Mr. Freeman explain (with excellent senses of humor all around) what the heck the scientists are doing.

     I can't say, after watching the episode on subatomic particles, that I can give you a physicist-quality explanation of what a Higgs boson is -- although, in my own defense, the physicists talking about it seemed a little blown away by the concept as well. On the other hand, the episode on the possibility of alien life certainly gave me some new perspectives on water and ecological principles that I plan to incorporate into class, and the discussions of alternate evolutions on Earth (with careful and understandable presentations of the scientific evidence) will have repercussions for how I teach students about deep-sea thermal vent ecologies in Ocean and Coastal Law. I recommend the episode to anyone who teaches biodiversity issues to students.

     More importantly, the series as a whole is giving me some great new perspectives on how to blend lecture, video, and graphics into much more effective presentations of hard-core science than I've been doing to date. I think that the examples from the series will be especially instructuve for how I teach the basic science of climate change in Environmental Law and the basic human biochemical reactions to toxins in Toxic Torts. I'm really looking forward to experimenting next year!

     Give the show a try!

     -- Robin Kundis Craig

July 4, 2013 in Biodiversity, Climate Change, Physical Science, Science, Sustainability, Television, Toxic and Hazardous Substances, Water Resources, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Happy World Oceans Day . . . sort of

World Oceans Day is June 8. It’s a relatively new holiday—the United Nations General Assembly decided in 2008 (United Nations Resolution 63/111, paragraph 171) that every June 8, starting with June 8, 2009, would bear the United Nation’s designation of World Oceans Day.

The purpose in designating World Oceans Day was to call attention to the many problems facing the ocean and to raise global awareness of the many challenges facing both marine ecosystems and the humans that depend upon them. In 2013, the theme for World Oceans Day is “Oceans & People.” The day even has its own 43-second video, care of “One World, One Ocean,” which you can view at http://worldoceansday.org.

The interesting thing about the video, however, is that it shows healthy, beautiful oceans teeming with life. The oceans themselves, however, are more often than not in much worse shape than that.

If you read the New York Times Magazine last week (May 26, 2013), you might have noticed that the cover story was about monk seal murders in Hawai'i. Hawaiian monk seals are among the most endangered marine mammals in the world. Most of their breeding grounds are in the Papahanamokuakea Marine National Monument, a limited-access marine reserve covering the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. (Notably, the murders occurred in the Main Hawaiian Islands, the islands all of us visit on vacation.) And yet, somebody (or several somebodies) wants the monk seals dead.

From one perspective, the monk seal story is sad and disturbing. From another, however, it is a microcosmic example of a macrocosmic phenomenon: Humans are killing the oceans, largely because we don't think we can.

And law isn't doing a whole lot to stop that process, by the way.

The oceans occupy 139.4 million square miles of the Earth's surface, or about 71% of that visible surface. Of course, they also have significant depth--up to almost 36,000 feet at the Mariana Trench.

And we're changing them. If that doesn't scare you, it should.

We're changing the ocean's biodiversity. Even as the Census of Marine Life revealed in 2010 at least 20,000 new marine species after a decade of world-wide research, scientists are predicting that most fish species will be commercially extinct by 2050. In addition, large individuals of marine species are already down to about 10% of what is "natural."

We're changing the ocean's chemistry. As the concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere increase, the world's oceans are taking up a lot of the excess--about 40% of the anthropogenic carbon dioxide. Their capacity to do so may be decreasing, but even if it isn't, the oceans can't absorb that much carbon dioixide without impact. Through a complex chemical reaction, the absorbed carbon dioxide becomes, essentially, carbonic acid, a phenomenon that has already measurably reduced the ocean's pH. This "ocean acidification" is already interfering with mariculture in the states of Washington and Maine; it may be altering ocean acoustics; and it could interfere with the ocean's ability to produce oxygen for all of us.

We're changing the ocean's currents. As average atmospheric temperatures increase, they both change wind patterns and increase sea surface temperatures. Both of these alterations, in turn, change ocean currents, and the results have been as diverse as new "dead zones" (hypoxic zones) off several coasts and an ocean "hot spot" off the coast of Tasmania, Australia.

We're changing the ocean's temperatures and cycles. The most obvious example is the Arctic Ocean, which set records for the amount of sea ice melt in 2012 and may be entirely ice-free in the summers as soon as 2016. The Arctic nations (Canada, Russia, Denmark, Norway, and the Unites States) are already anticipating increased human use of the Arctic Ocean, including fishing, offshore drilling, and commercial marine traffic. The implications for the mixing of marine species traditionally considered purely "Pacific" or purely "Atlantic" are potentially mind-boggling.

Against this background, the Obama Administration released the National Ocean Policy Implementation Plan in April 2013, available at http://www.whitehouse.gov//sites/default/files/national_ocean_policy_implementation_plan.pdf. There's a lot in the National Ocean Policy, and there's a lot in the Implementation Plan. However, one thing notably dropped out between the Draft Implementation Plan and the final Implementation Plan: required marine spatial planning. Marine spatial planning is a demonstrated best practice for reconciling, coordinating, and rationalizing the multiple uses that humans make of the marine environment--including the needs of the marine ecosystems themselves. In the United States, marine spatial planning, implemented well, could also help to rationalize the radical fragmentation of authority that undermines comprehensive ocean governance.

This isn't a government taking the need for increased marine resilience seriously. As I've argued in multiple other fora, we need to transform our ocean law and policy.

Happy World Oceans Day!

-- Robin Kundis Craig

June 2, 2013 in Biodiversity, Climate Change, Economics, Food and Drink, Governance/Management, Law, North America, Science, Sustainability, US, Water Resources | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Legislating Climate Science

Much to my chagrin, a number of people have forwarded me information about a proposal in my new home state:  a bill that would require the following of sea-level rise estimates:

"These rates shall only be determined using historical data, and these data shall be limited to the time period following the year 1900. Rates of sea-level rise may be extrapolated linearly to estimate future rates of rise but shall not include scenarios of accelerated rates of sea-level rise."

In the past, I've taken the position that unless there's some special interest at stake (like suspect classifications or fundamental rights), courts ought to be reluctant to interfere when legislatures make policy decisions based on faulty science.  On the other hand, a legislature getting science plain wrong might signal no rational basis.  Is there room for that analysis here?

At the very least, this is a reminder that courts often provide a check that's too little, too late.

-Emily Meazell

June 7, 2012 in Climate Change, Current Affairs, Law, Legislation, Science | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Fukushima and Burning Questions

This week, National Public Radio aired the first of a four-part series entitled BURN:  An Energy Journal.  The first, aired on the one-year-anniversary of Japan’s earthquake, focused on Fukushima, asking what we’ve learned, and what’s next.

Also this week, the National Council on Radiation Protection & Measurements held its annual meeting, with a focus on two events:  a study showing medical exposures to radiation now account for about 50% of the United States population’s annual radiation dose; and the accidents at the Fukushima reactors and storage facilities.  Both issues raise questions about lessons learned and best practices going forward (and look for a later post on low-level radiation exposure). 

Here’s a sample of the law, policy, and science flurry of activity over the past week or so that’s focused on some of the enduring questions surrounding nuclear technology made especially salient by Fukushima’s anniversary:

  • Scientific American:  1 Year Later, What Does Fukushima Mean for Nuclear Research?
  • The journal Science published a study entitled Nuclear Fuel in a Reactor Accident, which discusses research priorities for developing predictive models of radionuclide behavior during and after accidents
  • A U.S. Geological Survey study measured minimal amounts of fallout in U.S. precipitation following Fukushima
  • Lincoln Davies’s piece Beyond Fukushima: Disasters, Nuclear Energy, and Energy Law appeared on ssrn
  • National Geographic published an article exploring energy shortages in Japan

What are the most pressing issues for nuclear technology? What have we learned? And by the way, does your answer depend on how you perceive risk?

 

--Emily Meazell

March 15, 2012 in Current Affairs, Energy, Science | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, March 9, 2012

Live Blogging from Silent Spring @ 50

This morning, I will be blogging live from the University of Utah law school's 17th Annual Stegner Center Conference, "Silent Spring at 50: The Legacy of Rachel Carson." As usual, the conference offers a stellar line-up.

If you want more, you can watch the symposium live (or, later, view the archived version).

The morning session is entitled "The Edge of the Sea: Rachel Carson and the Protection of the Marine World" and features the following speakers:

"Heeding the Signs of a Changing Ocean" -- Susan Avery, President and Director, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution:
  • "Every second breath you take is provided by the ocean."

  • "We have entered a new geologic age -- the anthropocene era."

  • "The Gulf and other coastal waters have long been a dumping ground for human activities."

  • "One thing that I think Rachel would be pleased about is that science [is now] at the stage where you can predict the emergence of harmful algal blooms."

  • NOAA "has begun now issuing seasonal red tide alerts in the Northeast."

  • "I really think it's harder to get into the ocean than to space. We probably know more about the surface of the moon and Mars than we do the ocean."

  • "It's not funded, but we have a national ocean policy."
"Corporate Ocean Responsibility: Business, Sustainable Use and Stewardship of the Marine World" -- Paul Holthus, founding Executive Director, World Ocean Council
  • "If we think about where we are now with the oceans, and what Rachel Carson would think today, I think she we be partly despairing and partly hopeful."

  • "The economic benefit of the ocean is huge, and it is just beginning to be documented."

  • "Everyone has a stake in the oceans."

  • "One of the keys" to ocean management "is the realization that best practices by an individual corporation is not enough . . . . Collaboration is needed . . . . The problem is that there has not been a structural process to" bring ocean industries together.

  • "Thinking to the future . . . , these are the kind of cross-sectoral things that . . . businesses can get involved in and be part of the solution and not just part of the problem:" (1) ocean governance -- Convention on Biological Diversity, (2) marine spatial planning, (3) regional ocean business councils, (4) smart ocean / smart industries.

  • "Marine mammal issues will increasingly affect marine activities, especially shipping."

  • "We need to balance that growing need for resources and food and energy with those areas that already have resources."

  • "Better data means better modeling and better forecasting," which fundamentally helps businesses, "let alone leading to better environmental management."

"Challenges for Ocean Governance in a Climate Change Era" -- Robin Kundis Craig, Attorneys' Title Professor of Law and Associate Dean for Environmental Programs, Florida State University College of Law

  • "I think what we should really be thinking about is how to keep those ecosystems healthy, functioning, and resilient rather than collapsing."

  • "The problem is we have one ocean but many governments."

  • "As much as we'd like to treat the ocean as one place, there are serious problems for doing that under our current legal system."

  • "Marine spatial planning was introduced, internationally at least, before governments were really thinking about climate change. . . . It is not a panacea. . . . It will not really help with climate change mitigation . . . ."

  • "Marine spatial planning can help with climate change adaptation, and it" can become "more climate change adaptable."

  • "Ocean acidification is the technical fix for anyone who wants to [address] climate change" in the oceans.

  • Australia has a climate change adaptation plan for the Great Barrier Reef. In part, it seeks to "fill knowledge gaps," "identify critical ecosystem thresholds," and translate that into management practices.

  • "Australia is also using the Reef as a reason to engage in climate change mitigation."
  • An example of dynamic zoning possibilities is TurtleWatch, which predicts on a daily basis where sea turtles will be so that fishers can avoid them (and thus prevent closure of the fishery).

-Lincoln Davies

March 9, 2012 in Biodiversity, Books, Climate Change, Current Affairs, Economics, Environmental Assessment, Governance/Management, International, Law, North America, Science, Social Science, Sustainability, Toxic and Hazardous Substances, US, Water Quality, Water Resources | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, February 10, 2012

Practical and Experiential Learning in Environmental and Energy Law

Increasingly, I find it important to bring the practical into the classroom.  To be upfront, this view is not new for me.  I joined the academy with the presumption that deep theory, legal doctrine, and careful analysis cannot stand alone; the best learning couples heavy doses of those with the real world.  Five years in, consistent feedback from students and the bar have overwhelmingly confirmed what I initially assumed.  At least some professors also seem to agree.

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Injecting the practical is comparatively easy in some courses.  In my civil procedure class, for instance, I am constantly trying to find ways to help students see that the rules are not just principles; they are tools that you can only truly understand if you pick them up and use them repeatedly.  In the litigation context, avenues for making this clear are both discrete and fairly digestible, even in the first semester.  Students in my class attend two court proceedings.  They draft a complaint or an answer.  They write a set of discovery.  They complete a CALI exercise that tries to replicate the discovery process of a case.  It is not uncommon on my exams for students to be asked to draft a motion, complete the next entry in a deposition transcript, or create a notice of appeal.  Certainly, I have no illusions that any first-year student will leave my class a master of any of these tasks.  But the hope is that by being exposed to some of them, students not only begin to gain an understanding of what litigators do on a daily basis, but also learn the material more deeply while laying a foundation of skills they will actually need in practice.

The question, then, is whether this kind of hybrid learning is also useful for more specialized, upper level law classes, particularly those in the environment, energy, and natural resource fields.  More and more, I have become convinced that it is.  Conceptually, this makes sense.  Lawyers in any field have specific, practical skills they cannot be effective without.  There is no reason this is not also true for the areas in which we teach.  Having practiced for seven years, I know that's the case.  The environmental lawyer is always translator:  To handle a pollution case, you have to comprehend risk analysis and toxicology.  To grapple with energy rates or mergers, a grasp of economics is essential.  To do endangered species, biology is fundamental.  In all these, an understanding of the industry the lawyer represents, or that the law at issue regulates, cannot be foregone.

The problem for the classroom, however, is twofold.  First, there is a chicken-and-egg dilemma.  Students cannot really dive into the details of many topics on a practical basis until they have the basics of the law under control.  But getting to how that law really works is tough without practical exercises.  Second, there is an allocation quandary.  Every minute spent on a practical exercise deepens students’ understanding of that topic but does so at the expense of another subject area that could be covered instead.  In courses that present as many fascinating issues as ours do, making this choice is often more painful—for me at least—than deciding, for example, whether to do another day on summary judgment or covering standards of review in civil procedure.  At some point, moreover, too much of the practical in the classroom converts the substantive topic to a clinical one; there is a balance to find.

Nevertheless, I believe we owe it to our students to add this dimension to their understanding of the field.  To that end, here are a few things we are doing in my energy law class this semester.

  • Field trips to various energy sites, including to PacifiCorp’s Gadsby Power Plant earlier this week.

  • Mock cost-of-service ratemaking exercises, using a hypothetical utility’s rate base, debt structure, and production costs.

  • Guest lectures and case studies on actual energy controversies.

I’d be thrilled to hear what others are doing in their energy, environmental, or natural resources classes to add practical or experiential learning to the classroom.

-Lincoln Davies

(photo credit: S.P. Hansen)

February 10, 2012 in Africa, Economics, Energy, Land Use, Law, Science, Social Science, Sustainability | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, October 23, 2011

In Case You Missed It -- The Week of October 16 to 22

Climate change regulation is dead?  Not in California, which this week adopted the nation's first economy-wide cap-and-trade program.

The Tenth Circuit, in a 120-page decision, upheld a Clinton-era rule protecting 50 million acres of forestland from logging and roads.

The Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy released its first annual rankings of states; Massachusetts was first, with California second.

An advocacy study observed that FCC standards for cell phones "grossly underestimate[] the amount" of radiation that "smaller adults and children retain," as reported by Greenwire.

BP received approval for a plan to explore for oil in the Gulf of Mexico, its first such approval since the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

There is a fascinating article this week in The New Yorker about the aftermath of the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear accident in Japan.  (hat tip: Joe Tomain)

October 23, 2011 in Asia, Cases, Climate Change, Current Affairs, Energy, Environmental Assessment, Forests/Timber, Governance/Management, Law, Legislation, Science, Sustainability, US | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Tea Party, the Dunning-Kruger Effect, and Climate Change - Too Sure of Themselves?

As Cara Horowitz posted about earlier on Legal Planet, some recent polling data emerged today regarding politics and global warming, looking at the views of Democrats, Republicans, Independents and the Tea Party.  The report was put together by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication and the George Mason Center for Climate Change Communication.  The data contained lots of interesting information, but the most interesting tidbit to me was that:

"Tea Party members are much more likely to say that they are 'very well informed' about global warming than the other groups. Likewise, they are also much more likely to say they 'do not need any more information' about global warming to make up their mind."

Certainly being a specialist in an area does not always make one correct, but reading reports and keeping up with the science of climate change is part of what many of us do for a living. For me personally that is a task separate and apart from my politics, as there is plenty on both sides of the political spectrum with which I both agree and do not agree.  So while I have to rely on the understanding and processes of the scientists engaged in the research, due to my woeful scientific incompetence (I am not, after all, a climate scientist), I can still be somewhat sure from my review of the materials that 95% of scientists truly do maintain a consensus position on the human contribution to climate change, ocean acidification, etc.  Yet I have seen the mindset reflected in the poll when discussing the science of climate change, where I can throw paper after paper and report after report at someone and within minutes they are responding that it just cannot be true, that the debate is still open, etc.  Speed readers? I don't think so.

It reminds me of the Dunning-Kruger effect, but before I get into that let me make very clear that what I am discussing is a derivation of the actual effect. The actual effect is seen across all segments of society regardless of political affiliation, and involves less capable people overestimating their abilities while those more capable underestimate their own abilities relative to others.  But I wonder how this combines with political affiliation to cause people to purposefully put themselves in a position of being "less capable." By that I mean is there a bias toward not believing in climate change that is ideological, but that causes those people to exhibit some Dunning-Kruger-esque view that they are "very well informed" about global warming - more-so than folks who actually trust the science - and that they "do not need any more information"? This is certainly not an argument on my part that members of the Tea Party are less "capable" from an intellectual perspective. I have many, many extremely capable acquaintances who sympathize with the concerns of the Tea Party, but who simply aren't interested in digging deeper than Fox News to find the facts about climate change. Rather, it is that Tea Partiers seem to choose to put themselves into a position where their capability to understand and accept the science is compromised by their political views - they don't even want to track down the data and study it closely because if they do it might demonstrate something incongruous with their political viewpoints. Until one reads the reports and makes an effort to understand the science, that person is "unskilled" in the sense that Dunning-Kruger posits, and is prone to overestimate his or her skill in assessing the "truth" of climate change - just as unskilled as I am at performing surgery or engineering the construction of a building. 

John Cook actually posted about Dunning-Kruger over on Skeptical Science last year.  The site is widely regarded as a respectable source that addresses the arguments for and against the human contribution to climate change.  Cook states:

There are many with a cursory understanding who believe they're discovered fundamental flaws in climate science that have somehow been overlooked or ignored by climate scientists. Some take this a step further and believe they're being deceived . . .

Cook provides the following example:

In the discussion on whether CO2 is a pollutant, a graph was included to show CO2 levels over the last 10,000 years. The graph includes ice core data for CO2 levels before 1950. For values after 1950, direct measurements from Mauna Loa, Hawaii were used.

CO2 Levels

A comment was posted querying the data in this graph. Here is the comment in full:

"Whoa, hold on a minute here. CO2 readings from ONE LOCATION prove we have an enormous GLOBAL spike in CO2 levels? You've got to be kidding me. This is science? That would be like me taking hydrological readings at the bottom of Lake Superior and then declaring that the entire surface of the earth must be covered with water based on my readings. 

By the way, isn't Mauna Loa an active shield volcano? (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mauna_Loa) Hmmmm, you don't suppose that's where all that extra CO2 came from, do you? C'mon, people, wake up. I find it shameful that this obvious manipulation is allowed to pass as "proof". This is certainly NOT an unbiased scientific conclusion."

The commenter is asking whether it's appropriate to take CO2 readings from one location. Particularly when situated near a volcano which are known to emit CO2. Surely a better metric would be a global average of CO2 levels? These are legitimate questions. However, I deleted this comment as our Comments Policy allows no accusations of deception, whether the attack is directed towards skeptics, scientists or myself. This restriction is necessary to keep discussion constructive and restricted to science. Unfortunately, the comment began with a commendable question and ended with a not-so-commendable personal attack.

If the comment had stayed on methods and not strayed into motive, I would have posted the following response. Mauna Loa was used is because its the longest, continuous series of directly measured atmospheric CO2. The reason why it's acceptable to use Mauna Loa as a proxy for global CO2 levels is because CO2 mixes well throughout the atmosphere. Consequently, the trend in Mauna Loa CO2 (1.64 ppm per year) is statistically indistinguishable from the trend in global CO2 levels (1.66 ppm per year). If I used global CO2 in Figure 1 above, the result "hockey stick" shape would be identical.

Unfortunately, this type of presumptive misunderstanding is seen all too often. Someone doesn't understand a certain aspect of climate science which is understandable considering the complexities of our climate. Rather than investigate further, they assume a flaw in the climate science or worse, an act of deception. This response is often more a reflection of the gap in their own understanding than any flaw in the climate science.  

Perhaps most interesting when considering the Dunning-Kruger effect is that cross-cultural comparisons have demonstrated that Americans may be more prone to the effect than other cultures.  If so, perhaps it is not surprising that American acknowledgement of the threat of climate change trails almost the entire rest of the world: "People nearly everywhere, including majorities in developed Asia and Latin America, are more likely to attribute global warming to human activities rather than natural causes. The U.S. is the exception, with nearly half (47%) -- and the largest percentage in the world -- attributing global warming to natural causes. Americans are also among the least likely to link global warming to human causes, setting them apart from the rest of the developed world."

Ultimately, I wonder if the Tea Party suffers from a politics-induced version of the Dunning-Kruger effect, and simply does not want to dig deeper. Actually, maybe they do want to dig deeper, but only so they can continue to bury their head in the sand.

- Blake Hudson

September 7, 2011 in Air Quality, Climate Change, Governance/Management, International, Law, Physical Science, Science, US | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, August 7, 2011

In Case You Missed It -- The Week of August 1-7

* The famine in Somalia continues to worsen.

* Shell received conditional approval from the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Enforcement and Regulation to drill in the arctic Beaufort Sea, off the coast of Alaska.

* EPA proposed a rule that would exempt carbon dioxide streams from hazardous waste regulations under certain conditions.  The hope is to spur greater use of carbon capture and sequestration technology.

* A new PAC has formed to promote energy efficiency legislation.

* If you haven't seen it yet, Science has out an impressive set of materials on population trends, their environmental impacts, and prognostications about what it all means for the future of the planet.

* The leopards are not happy.

August 7, 2011 in Africa, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Current Affairs, Energy, Land Use, Law, Legislation, North America, Science, Sustainability, Toxic and Hazardous Substances, US, Water Resources | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Electricity's Zombie App?

Picking up on Prof. McAllister's post Tuesday about top environmental law films, one recent movie should not be missed.  Strikingly shot, beautifully conceived, Into Eternity traces the story of the construction of Onkalo, Finland's version of the United States' Yucca Mountain: a deep-beneath-the-earth, labyrinthine permanent repository for high-level nuclear waste.

 

The film is as much art as it is documentary, but at its core its mission is to ask the hardest questions there are about spent nuclear fuel:  How is it that we continue to rely so heavily on nuclear power when no one has yet to find a politically palatable solution for the waste?  How can humans conceive of, much less maintain, a structure that will last 100,000 years when nothing we have ever built has lasted even a fraction of that time?  What are our obligations to future generations, whether from a theological or humanistic perspective, in terms of the planet that we all share?  If power storage is likely to become electricity's "killer app," Into Eternity seems to be asking, is nuclear waste its "zombie app"?  Is nuclear waste likely to come back years from now, undead-like, once gone but now resurrected, to haunt humankind and the planet on which we live?

The film is at its best when it asks these questions in its uniquely creative ways.  Filmmaker Michael Madsen puts his own, indelible imprint on the long-debated issue of nuclear waste.  Whether pointing out that "merely" 5,000 years later we hardly understand what the Egyptians were doing with their pyramids; asking if Edvard Munch's The Scream would be an effective, universal warning sign for Onkalo millennia or even centuries from now; showing the contrast between Onkalo's dark, underground tunnels and the gorgeous winter white forests they lie beneath, the film drives home both the difficulty of the task and the contrast between nature and the high-tech civilization we have erected.

Still, Into Eternity is rather one-sided.  It zeroes in only on the problems of nuclear waste without highlighting the many benefits we garner from nuclear power.  It emphasizes the temporal length of the waste's risk without discussing the likelihood.  It, quite intentionally, elicits emotion, particularly fear, without exploring the social, economic, and political dimensions of the dilemma.  True, the Scandinavian experts who are interviewed throughout the film are excellent, but they are used more as ornamentation to spotlight Onkalo's mind-boggling complexity than they are to explore it.

In the end, the choice of how to portray Onkalo is the artist's prerogative.  Art, at its core, is all about perspective. 

The vision of nuclear waste offered here may be a somewhat jaundiced one, but it is no less sobering -- or worthwhile -- for the wear.

-Lincoln Davies

June 2, 2011 in Air Quality, Climate Change, Current Affairs, Energy, Film, International, Science, Sustainability | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, May 30, 2011

When All Else Fails Bring Up the "Other" Carbon Problem

When confronted with friends or students who may be skeptical of the human role in climate 1 change, I say "forget the temperature, let's talk about ocean acidification." Ocean acidification has been described as "the other carbon problem," and only recently have the implications of increasingly acidic oceans garnered much attention. Can we measure the increased concentration of carbon in the atmosphere when compared to pre-industrial levels? Check. Do we know that as a result of higher concentrations of CO2 the oceans have absorbed an increasing amount of carbon over time? Check. Do we know the scientific process whereby this carbon causes ocean water to become more acidic, and can that increasing acidity be measured? Check and check. In short, the increased amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reacts with ocean water to form carbonic acid, and surface waters today are 30% more acidic than they were at the 2 beginning of the Industrial Revolution. 

A recent article highlights that even conservative projections are that the oceans will be twice as acidic by the end of the century as they were in pre-industrial times. This increased acidity reduces the ability of a variety of important sea creatures to form and maintain shells or skeletons built from calcium carbonate - a result that would likely ripple all the way up the food chain. As these creatures are taken out of the food web, the negative impacts on fisheries and ocean life - and correspondingly the 1 billion humans that depend on those resources - will be profound. This is not to mention the damage that will continue to accrue to the ocean's dying coral reefs and other abundant biodiversity. 3

Researchers have recently set out to investigate the potential implications of rising ocean
acidity. These researchers have monitored a variety of viruses, bacteria, phytoplankton, and zooplankton, introducing varying levels of acidity into their local environment (mesocosms) to predict future impacts on these organisms. 

It certainly seems clear that since we can measure the concentration of carbon in the atmosphere, we know it is humans who released (and continue to release) it, and we know the basic workings of the "greenhouse effect" when there are higher higher concentrations of COand other gases in the atmosphere, then we should see the need to, at the least, proceed cautiously by reducing carbon emissions and attempting to mitigate against climate change. But until that exercise of logic becomes as mainstream among the populous as it currently is among scientists, the case of ocean acidification is a more tangible example of how increased levels of carbon dioxide damage our environment. My approach is to challenge people to go measure it themselves, rather than wallowing in uninformed denial. 

For a compelling introduction to the issue of ocean acidification, see this documentary produced by NRDC:

 

- Blake Hudson

May 30, 2011 in Biodiversity, Climate Change, International, Law, Physical Science, Science, Water Resources | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, May 16, 2011

Conservation Triage - "Should Conservationists Allow Some Species to Die Out?"

A recent article highlights the controversial concept of "conservation triage," whereby limited conservation resources are directed toward the species with the "best prospects for long-term survival." While the list of endangered and threatened species is growing, the funding for such programs is increasingly tight, and always finite.  

The article highlights the plight of the California condor, the population of which dropped to 22 individuals in 1987. Twenty five years later the condor numbers only 192 living in the wild, while 189 live in captivity.  The program to monitor and maintain condor populations costs more than $4 million a year, while the typical minimum viable population size for long-term species survival is about 5,000 individuals. At least one group of conservationists have asserted that "it is time for the global rescue operation to adopt the mind-set of a battlefield medic: Some endangered species are far more likely to recover than others, so we should identify those and save as many as we can." These conservationists argue that "you could save hundreds of butterfly species with the same investment being put into the condor."

Others, on the other hand, argue that "focusing on the cheapest wins 'may increase the short term tally of species, but we would end up saving only the most convenient ones.'" These conservationists point to the white rhino, the population of which dropped to 20 individuals at one point, but that stands at over 17,000 today.

This controversy demonstrates yet another tough choice faced by those concerned about the environment. It also highlights how approaches to habitat conservation can provide economic efficiency gains that can save both the most species and provide better long-term survival opportunities for those, like the condor, that are in limited numbers in the wild.  

Land development activities are appropriating increasing and copious amounts of habitat/natural capital every day.  It would seem a shift in focus from the costly propping up of single species in quickly developing areas to the prevention of habitat destruction is in order. The internalization of these environmental harms into our economic development costs may seem like triage to development interests and consumers, as they forgo - in the short term - a slight decrease in profit (or developers pass that cost down to the consumer). But in the long run it will be a far less costly triage than that proposed by some conservationists.

- Blake Hudson

May 16, 2011 in Biodiversity, Land Use, Science, Sustainability | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Dirt on Climate Change

Discover recently highlighted a new (and old) tool to combat climate change - dirt. The article, titled "Could Dirt Help Heal the Climate?," details new research demonstrating that better stewardship of agricultural soils "would have the potential to soak up 13 percent of the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere today - the equivalent of scrubbing every ounce of CO2 released into the atmosphere since 1980."

The research is focused on the benefits of "regenerative agriculture," which boosts soil fertility and moisture retention by increased use of composting, keeping fields planted year round and increasing plant diversity.  Not only do these methods have the potential to combat climate change, but they also can rejuvinate farmlands upon which a variety of developing societies depend for subsistence.

Agriculture has been one of the most disruptive forces interfering with the planet's carbon soil building process, both with respect to the planting of crops and grazing of animals. Land use changes associated with agriculture have "stripped 70 billion to 100 billion tons of carbon from the world's soils and pumped it into the earth's atmosphere, oceans, and lakes since the dawn of agriculture."

In one case study, the researchers determined that by adjusting agricultural methods to achieve 1.5 additional tons of carbon dioxide absorption a year - a task certainly within reach of agricultural practices - 28 million acres of California grazing lands could absorb nearly 40 percent of the state's total yearly carbon emissions from electricity generation.

This research further demonstrates the important role that land use practices play in combatting climate change. States and private actrors could certainly be more proactive in guiding agricultural practices on the nation's farmlands. Given that states are the primary arbiters of land use, however, the federal government and states should also be more proactive in seeking cooperative approaches to adjust land uses associated with agricultural soil retention and enhancement. When a few modifications to such a simple resource as dirt could have such profound impacts on carbon sequestration capabilities, failure to act should leave our governments and private actors feeling, well, down right dirty.  

- Blake Hudson

April 25, 2011 in Climate Change, Land Use, Physical Science, Science | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, April 11, 2011

Roy Gardner on "Lawyers, Swamps, and Money - U.S. Wetland Law, Policy, and Politics" (New Book)

Wetlands expert Roy GardnerStetson University College of Law, has recently published a fascinating book on U.S. wetland law and policy.  The book, Lawyers, Swamps, and Money, U.S. Wetland Law, Policy, and Politics has recently become available for purchase (Island Press), and you may purchase a copy here. You can read the press release for the book below.

Professor Gardner is one of the nation's leading experts on wetland law and policy. His book reflects not only his expertise, but also his special ability to make the details of wetland law and policy accessible to all - even despite the complex web of constitutional, administrative, and environmental questions raised.  I recommend this book to anyone interested in wetlands, and think it would be great supplementary reading for Natural Resources Law and Policy or related courses.

Professor Gardner is the director of Stetson's Institute for Biodiversity Law and Policy, and was instrumental in Stetson University College of Law becoming the first school in the country to gain membership to the US National Ramsar Committee, which supports the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands in the United States.  Stetson students worked with the site manager of Audubon’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary to seek its designation as a Wetland of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention, and it was successfully designated as such in the spring of 2010.

Gardner book cover

 

PRESS RELEASE     

Lawyers, Swamps, and Money

U.S. Wetland Law, Policy, and Politics

By Royal C. Gardner

Washington, D.C. (April 2011) — A leading expert on wetlands law and policy has written an engaging guide to the complex set of laws governing these critical natural areas.  

Lawyers, Swamps, and Money explains the importance of America’s wetlands and the threats they face, and examines the evolution of federal law, principally the Clean Water Act, designed to protect them.  Royal Gardner’s writing is simultaneously substantive and accessible to a wide audience — from policy makers to students to citizen activists.

Readers will first learn the basics of administrative law: how agencies receive and exercise their authority, how they actually make laws, and how stakeholders can influence their behavior through the Executive Branch, Congress, the courts, and the media. These core concepts provide a base of knowledge for successive discussions of:

• the geographic scope and activities covered by the Clean Water Act

• the curious relationship between the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency

• the goal of no net loss of wetlands

• the role of entrepreneurial wetland mitigation banking

• the tension between wetland mitigation bankers and in-lieu fee mitigation programs

• wetland regulation and private property rights.The book concludes with insightful policy recommendations to make wetlands law less ambiguous and more effective.

The book concludes with insightful policy recommendations to make wetlands law less ambiguous and more effective.

- Blake Hudson

April 11, 2011 in Biodiversity, Constitutional Law, Environmental Assessment, Governance/Management, International, Land Use, Law, Physical Science, Science, US, Water Quality, Water Resources | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Red Risk, Blue Risk

 A few months ago, Dan Kahan, Donald Braman, and Hank Jenkins-Smith published an important article titled, Cultural Cognition of Scientific Consensus (available here).  The article looked at several risks, two of which are quite relevant to today’s news and environmental law:  the risks associated with climate change and those associated with storing nuclear waste.

While I do not want to rehash all of the article’s findings, consider one of the article’s major conclusions:

When mechanisms of cultural cognition figure in her reasoning, a person processes information in a manner that is equivalent to one who is assigning new information probative weight based on its consistency with her prior estimatio. Because of identity protective cognition (Sherman and Cohen 2006; Kahan et al. 2007) and affect (Peters, Burraston, and Mertz 2004), such a person is highly likely to start with a risk perception that is associated with her cultural values. She might resolve to evaluate the strength of contrary evidence without reference to her prior beliefs. However, because of culturally biased information search and culturally biased assimilation (Kahan et al. 2009), she is likely to attend to the information in a way that reinforces her prior beliefs and affective orientation (Jenkins-Smith 2001).When mechanisms of cultural cognition figure in her reasoning, a person processes information in a manner that is equivalent to one who is assigning new information its probative weight based on its consistency with her prior estimation. Because of identity protective cognition and affect, such a person is highly likely to start with a risk perception that is associated with her cultural values. She might resolve to evaluate the strength of contrary evidence without reference to her prior beliefs. However, because of culturally biased information search and culturally biased assimilation, she is likely to attend to the information in a way that reinforces her prior beliefs and affective orientation.

 In other words, one’s worldview alters risk perception in ways we would never anticipate.  Our minds seek out and give greater weight to information that harmonizes with our worldviews.  Interestingly and disturbingly, even when risks are very complex and difficult for non-experts to assess, non-expert brains often trust one's worldview even if it means disagreeing with the experts.

While the article presents a very convincing case, a few items in the news this past week seemed to reinforce the article’s findings for me.  (Granted, the article has left me uneasily wondering if I am just reinforcing my own priors.)

First, a post on a political science blog called Monkey Cage (discussed in an excellent post by Dan Farber earlier this week) suggests that as education increases, liberals are more likely to see climate change as caused by human activity whereas, surprisingly, as education increases, conservatives are less likely to see climate change as caused by human activity. 

Both the Monkey Cage and Farber’s post provide the following helpful graph to illustrate this finding:

Climate change by party

Second, CBS News recently released a poll showing, among other things, support for nuclear power in decline.  This is not too surprising given the recent failing of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station.  Interestingly however, CBS’s data show that Democrats are more worried than Independents and much more worried than Republicans about risks associated with nuclear power.

It is a bit humbling to recognize that in addressing major problems like climate change even our perceptions of risks can be divisive.   

- Brigham Daniels

March 23, 2011 in Climate Change, Current Affairs, Energy, Science | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Sustainable Fisheries Law

I teach Sustainable Natural Resources Law in the spring.  Here's a new publication brought to my attention by Gerd Winter that looks like a great fit for introducing students to the fisheries area.  A slightly edited summary of the book courtesy of Gerd appears below:

Towards Sustainable Fisheries Law

As most of the fish resources in the world's oceans are constantly depleting, the development of effective and efficient instruments of fisheries management becomes crucial. Against this background, the IUCN
Environmental Law Programme proudly presents its latest publication in the IUCN Environmental Policy and Law Paper Series, edited by Gerd Winter, a member of the IUCN Commission on Environmental Law, which focuses on a legal approach towards sustainable and equitable management of fish resources.

This publication is a result of an interdisciplinary endeavour with worldwide participation studying multiple demands on coastal zones and viable solutions for resource use with emphasis on fisheries. The book consists of six case studies including Indonesia, Kenya, Namibia, Brazil, Mexico and the EU, which are preceded by an analysis of the international law requirements concerning fisheries management. The final part of the book summarizes the case studies and proposes a methodology for diagnosing problems in existing management systems and developing proposals for reform.

Towards Sustainable Fisheries Law thus helps the reader to learn more about the international legal regime for fisheries management that is currently in place, improves the understanding of the institutional and legal problems related to fisheries management that countries face at the national level, and provides guidance for sustainable use of fish resources through a "legal clinic" for fisheries management.

The book was published as IUCN Environmental Policy and Law Paper No. 74. Free copies can be ordered at the IUCN office or downloaded (2,05 MB) from the IUCN website at: Toward Sustainable Fisheries Law

September 9, 2009 in Africa, Asia, Biodiversity, Books, Current Affairs, Economics, Energy, Governance/Management, International, Law, North America, Physical Science, Science, Social Science, South America, Sustainability, Water Quality, Water Resources | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Swine Flu spreads worldwide -- at least 32 nations have suspected cases, 11 nations have 257 (+ at least 13 not yet reported) confirmed cases with 8 confirmed deaths

Swine Flu World Map

Thursday, April 30th regular AM Update

WHO Update 6 added the Netherlands to the list of countries, with one confirmed case.  The cases from Costa Rica and Peru have not yet been reported to WHO.  The additional New Zealand cases have not yet been reported to WHO.  WHO's Canadian count has jumped from 13 to 19.  WHO's UK count has increased from 5 to 8.  The total count of confirmed cases reported to WHO is now 257.


Thursday, April 30th early AM Update

There's so much to take in that the PM update has become an early AM update.

WHO has not published another update on international reported, confirmed cases. Based on news reports, confirmed cases include  Austria (1), Canada (13), Germany (3), Israel (2), New Zealand (14), Spain (10), the United Kingdom (5), Costa Rica (2) and Peru(1).  In both New Zealand and Spain, there are large numbers of suspected cases that have not yet been confirmed. 

Wednesday, April 29th AM Update

WHO has announced reported confirmed cases in 9 nations; a total of 148 reported confirmed cases; in addition to US and Mexico, confirmed cases include  Austria (1), Canada (13), Germany (3), Israel (2), New Zealand (3), Spain (4) and the United Kingdom (5). The US has reported 91 confirmed cases and 1 death, currently providing a case/fatality ratio of just over 1%.  Mexico has reported 26 confirmed cases and seven deaths.   That would be a case/fatality ratio over 25%, however, the vast bulk of Mexican cases and deaths have not yet been reported and confirmed.  Assuming the number of suspected cases (2517 with 159 suspected deaths) turn out to be accurately identified, this provides a case/fatality ratio of 6+%.  That is about 3 times as deadly as the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, which killed 20- 40 million people.  Fortunately, we have large quantities of anti-viral drugs and have been planning for this event for several years now, so deaths should be extremely limited.


Tuesday April 28th update (PM):

According to AP, the confirmed Canadian cases now number 13, rather than six. AP report Both Spain and Israel now have 2 confirmed cases according to WHO, with WHO reporting 2 confirmed New Zealand cases and 2 confirmed UK cases, rather than the 3 NZ cases previously reported..

Denmark, Columbia, Czech Republic, Australia, and Russia have joined the list of countries with suspected cases.


Tuesday April 28th update (AM):

Israel and New Zealand have confirmed cases.  Switzerland added to suspected case list .Washington Post link  The Washington Post has a nice map, but it only tracks North American cases. WP map  The New York Times has a global map showing both confirmed and suspected cases.  NYT graphic  However, both of the maps are lagging behind -- the NYT didn't pick up the 3 confirmed New Zealand cases or the suspected cases in the EU.


Monday April 27th Update

New Zealand news link

There have been six lab-confirmed cases of mild swine flu in Canada and one in Spain, which became the first country in Europe to confirm a case after a man who returned from a trip to Mexico last week was found to have the virus. Spain has 26 suspected cases under observation and a New Zealand teacher and a dozen students who recently travelled to Mexico are being treated as likely mild cases  Countries including Australia, France, Germany, Norway, Sweden, Israel, Guatemala, Costa Rica and South Korea are all testing suspected cases of the flu. In the first confirmed cases in Britain, Scotland's health minister says two people tested positive for swine flu.

The Scottish cases bring the number of nations with confirmed cases to five and the number of nations with suspected cases to 14.

April 30, 2009 in Australia, EU, Governance/Management, International, North America, Physical Science, Science, Travel, US | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

AAAS Policy Alert

For those of you who try to stay current on science policy, I am a member of AAAS and receive its policy alerts. I encourage all of you to join and subscribe to Science.  Here is today's policy alert:

AAAS Policy Alert -- April 29, 2009 


President Addresses National Academies

President Obama addressed the Annual Meeting of the National Academy of Sciences on April 27 and called for a renewed commitment to basic scientific research and education. During his speech he stated that his goal would be to increase our nation's share of federal investment in research and development (R&D) to 3 percent of gross domestic product (GDP). In recent years, the share has hovered around 2.6 percent of GDP. Furthermore, Obama announced the membership of the President's Council of Advisors for Science and Technology (PCAST). Members include past AAAS President Shirley Ann Jackson of RPI, as well as former Board member Rosina Bierbaum and current AAAS Treasurer David Shaw. They join former AAAS President John Holdren who is both the U.S. President's science advisor and co-chair of PCAST.

Budget News

The House and Senate have nominated the conferees to resolve the differences between their respective versions of the FY 2010 budget resolution. House members include: Budget Committee Chairman John Spratt (D-SC), Ranking Member Paul Ryan (R-WI), and Reps. Allen Boyd (D-FL), Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Jeb Hensarling (R-TX). Senate members include Budget Committee Chair Kent Conrad (D-ND), Ranking Member Judd Gregg (R-NH) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA). The conferees met today (April 27) to begin deliberating over a consensus document.

Other Congressional News

Congressional Climate Change Update. The House Energy and Commerce Committee held four days of hearings on the American Clean Energy and Security Act, with much debate on the merits of moving ahead on the climate and energy package. Subcommittee markup of the bill has been pushed back to next week, with details such as how to allocate permits to emit greenhouse gases and how the revenues will be used yet to be determined. Meanwhile Senate Environment and Public Works Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) announced the formation of five working groups to find compromises in several areas of concern: regional issues, cost containment, targets and timetables, market oversight and coal research and technology. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee heard from Todd Stern, special envoy for climate change at the State Department, who testified on the diplomatic cost of inaction on climate change and emphasized the need for all countries - developed and developing - to engage in negotiations with "common but differentiated responsibilities." Stern is leading the first session of the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate on April 27-28, a White House initiative to develop a dialogue among major developed and developing economies on climate change.

New Bill Promotes Science Envoys. Last week, Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN) introduced legislation (S. 838) that recognizes the importance of international scientific cooperation and the work of organizations such as AAAS and the National Academies in this area. The legislation tasks the State Department to appoint Science Envoys to represent our nation and promote international collaboration.

Executive Branch

Presidential Memo on Scientific Integrity. OSTP issued a Presidential Memo on scientific integrity in the April 23 Federal Register and requests public comments on six principles for maintaining and protecting the responsible use of science in decision-making. The memo builds upon a March 9, 2009 memorandum from the President that called on OSTP to issue a set of recommendations within 120 days. OSTP has launched a blog on the subject and is seeking comments on the selection of scientists to serve in the executive branch, peer-review of science used in policy-making, access to scientific data used in policy-making, and whistleblower protection. Comments are due May 13, 2009.

NIH Stem Cell Guidelines Now Open for Comment. The NIH Guidelines for Human Stem Cell Research are now open for public comment until May 26.

NCI Director Speaks on Cancer Plan. National Cancer Institute Director John Niederhuber recently spoke of his institute's plans in the wake of President Obama's cited goal of doubling funds for cancer research. Included would be a boost in the NCI payline to fund more meritorious research grants, as well as more grants to first-time investigators and new faculty researchers. There will also be a focus on personalized cancer care.

EPA Examines Ocean Acidification. On April 14, EPA issued a Federal Register notice requesting information on ocean acidification, the changing of ocean chemistry from increases in carbon dioxide that affects coral reefs and other marine organisms. In response to a lawsuit by the Center for Biological Diversity, EPA is trying to determine whether changes are needed to the water quality criteria under the Clean Water Act. Comments are due June 15, 2009.

Toxics Reporting Tightened. As mandated in the 2009 omnibus appropriations bill, EPA finalized changes to reporting requirements under the Toxics Release Inventory that will take effect July 1. The final rules restore more stringent reporting requirements than those from a Bush-era rule that raised the pollution threshold for reporting. In 2006, AAAS submitted comments stating that the increased threshold would "threaten the ability of researchers to identify and understand potential threats to the environment and public health in a scientifically rigorous manner."

FDA Widens Access to "Morning-After" Pill. The Food and Drug Administration will now allow 17-year-olds to purchase the Plan B "morning-after" pill without a prescription, following a recent federal court order that it do so. The decision has been labeled a "triumph of science over politics" because of widespread concern that the previous administration overruled scientific advice on making the pill available over the counter, leading the FDA's top women's health official, Susan Wood, to resign in protest in 2005.

Nation's First CTO: Clarification. Last week's Policy Alert reported on the President's selection of Aneesh Chopra to be the nation's first chief technology officer. It has since been reported that the CTO will also be one of the associate directors of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) concerned with overall technology policy and innovation strategies across federal departments. Chopra's position (which is subject to Senate confirmation) should not be confused with that of Vivek Kundra, recently named Chief Information Officer, who is located in the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), overseeing day-to-day information technology spending and interagency operations.

Elsewhere

Climate Risk Report Released. Led by the Heinz Center and CERES, a coalition of insurance, government, environmental, and investment organizations released a report, Resilient Coasts: A Blueprint for Action that listed steps the nation can take to drastically reduce rising coastal hazard risks and their associated economic impacts.

Texas School Board Chairman Up for Confirmation. Texas State Board of Education Chairman Don McLeroy, a vocal opponent of teaching evolution, is up for Senate confirmation by the state Senate, and during a recent hearing some members of the Senate Nominations Committee expressed dissatisfaction with McLeroy's performance. One state senator said McLeroy has "created a hornet's nest" and noted that 15 bills filed during this legislative session would strip powers from the state school board. Even if McLeroy is not confirmed as chairman, he will still remain a member of the board. In other news, the Institute for Creation Research is now suing in U.S. District Court over the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board's decision to deny its request to offer a master's degree in science education.

Animal Rights Activists Charged. Two animal rights activists have been arraigned on charges of conspiracy, stalking and other crimes, including attempted fire-bombing, against UCLA scientists engaged in animal research.



Publisher: Alan I. Leshner
Editor: Joanne Carney
Contributors: Erin Heath, Earl Lane, Steve Nelson, Al Teich, Kasey White

NOTE: The AAAS Policy Alert is a newsletter provided to AAAS Members to inform them of developments in science and technology policy that may be of interest.  Information in the Policy Alert is gathered from published news reports, unpublished documents, and personal communications.  Although the information contained in this newsletter is regarded as reliable, it is provided only for the convenience and  private use of our members.  Comments and suggestions regarding the Policy Alert are welcome.  Please write to alert@aaas.org.



April 29, 2009 in Climate Change, Energy, Governance/Management, Legislation, Physical Science, Science, Social Science, Sustainability, Toxic and Hazardous Substances, US, Water Resources | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Findlaw environmental case summaries March 2009

Table of Contents - March 16-29th

ENVIRONMENTAL LAW CASES

• Trout Unlimited v. Lohn
• Natural Resources Def. Coun. v. EPA

FindLaw's case summaries are copyrighted material and are not intended for republication without prior approval. You may, however, freely redistribute this e-mail in its entirety.
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U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, March 16, 2009
Trout Unlimited v. Lohn, No. 07-35623
In a challenge to a National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) regulation distinguishing between natural and hatchery-spawned salmon and steelhead when determining the level of protection each species should receive under the Endangered Species Act, the majority of District Court's rulings are affirmed where NMFS decisions were not arbitrary, but reversed where summary judgment to Plaintiff was erroneous. Read more...

U.S. D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, March 20, 2009
Natural Resources Def. Coun. v. EPA, No. 07-1151
Petitioner's petition for review of EPA air quality regulations is denied, where: 1) Petitioner failed to object to the EPA's definition of "natural event" during the rulemaking process; and 2) the preamble to the regulations was not a final agency action, and thus was not reviewable under the Clean Air Act. Read more...

Table of Contents - March 9 - 15th

ENVIRONMENTAL LAW CASES

• Am. Bird Conservancy v. Kempthorne
• Dallas v. Hall
• Hempstead County Hunting Club v. Southwestern Electric Power
• Washington v. Chu
• Delaware Dept. of Natural Res. & Envt'l. Ctrl. v. FERC
• Eastern Niagara Pub. Pwr. Alliance & Pub. Pwr. Coal. v. FERC
• State of California v. Allstate Ins. Co.
• People v. Tri-Union Seafoods, LLC

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U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals, March 11, 2009
Am. Bird Conservancy v. Kempthorne, No. 07-4609
In an action involving environmental rulemaking, dismissal of plaintiff's complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction is affirmed where the challenge to the denial by the Fish and Wildlife Service to undertake an emergency rulemaking listing the red knot species of bird endangered, is rendered moot by the publication of the warranted but precluded by higher priority listing in the periodic Candidate Notice of Review. Read more...

U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, March 12, 2009
Dallas v. Hall, No. 08-10890
In an action by a city against the Fish & Wildlife Service based on the agency's establishment of a conservation easement on the city's land, summary judgment for Defendant is affirmed, where the FWS considered a reasonable range of alternatives before creating the easement, and was not required to consider the impact on a potential water source. Read more...

U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals, March 12, 2009
Hempstead County Hunting Club v. Southwestern Electric Power , No. 08-2613
In an environmental action, appeal of a denial of a preliminary injunction to halt preconstruction activities for defendant's failure to obtain the permit required by the Clean Air Act is dismissed as moot where defendant has since received the Clean Air Act permit and lawfully begun construction at the site. Read more...

U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, March 10, 2009
Washington v. Chu, No. 06-35227
In an action by the state of Washington against the Department of Energy for violation of hazardous waste management regulations, summary judgment for Plaintiff is affirmed, where the Washington Hazardous Waste Management Act plainly exempts designated nuclear waste from the storage and land-disposal prohibitions "with respect to WIPP" only. Read more...

U.S. D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, March 13, 2009
Delaware Dept. of Natural Res. & Envt'l. Ctrl. v. FERC, No. 07-1007
Petitioner state agency's petition for review of FERC's approval of an application to operate a natural gas site is dismissed, where Petitioner lacked standing to challenge the order because it was expressly conditioned on Petitioner's approval. Read more...

U.S. D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, March 13, 2009
Eastern Niagara Pub. Pwr. Alliance & Pub. Pwr. Coal. v. FERC, No. 07-1472
Petitioner's petition for review of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's (FERC) approval of a state agency's license to operate a power project is denied, where FERC's decision to issue the license was reasonable and reasonably explained. Read more...

Supreme Court of California, March 09, 2009
State of California v. Allstate Ins. Co. , No. S149988
In an action arising from efforts to obtain insurance coverage for property damage liability imposed in a federal lawsuit as a result of discharges from a hazardous waste disposal facility, grant of defendant's motion for summary judgment is reversed where: 1) triable issues of fact exist as to whether the 1969 overflow fell within the meaning of the absolute pollution exclusion for watercourses contained in the insurance policy; 2) evidence the State should have known flooding was likely is insufficient to prove as an undisputed fact that the waste discharge in 1978 due to flooding was expected and therefore nonaccidental; and 3) there is a triable issue as to whether the cost of repairing the property damage from the 1969 and 1978 discharges can be quantitatively divided among the various causes of contamination. Read more...

California Appellate Districts, March 11, 2009
People v. Tri-Union Seafoods, LLC, No. A116792
In an action involving food warnings, trial court's ruling for the defendant is affirmed where substantial evidence supports the trial courts finding that methylmercury is naturally occurring in canned tuna and thus defendants and other tuna companies are exempt from the warning requirements of Proposition 65. Read more...

Table of Contents - March 2 - 8th

ENVIRONMENTAL LAW CASES

• Summers v. Earth Island Inst.
• Martex Farms, S.E. v. US EPA
• Izaak Walton League of Am., Inc. v. Kimball
• Latino Issues Forum v. EPA

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U.S. Supreme Court, March 03, 2009

Summers v. Earth Island Inst., No. 07-463
In an action challenging Forest Service regulations exempting certain land management activities from the agency's review process, an injunction against the regulations is reversed where Plaintiffs lacked standing to challenge the regulations absent a live dispute over a concrete application of those regulations. Read more...

U.S. 1st Circuit Court of Appeals, March 05, 2009
Martex Farms, S.E. v. US EPA, No. 08-1311
Final decision and order of the Environmental Appeals Board holding plaintiff liable for violations of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act is affirmed where: 1) there is no legal basis for plaintiff's argument that the EPA's enforcement action amounted to selective prosecution; 2) plaintiff's claim that it was deprived of a full and fair opportunity to present its case fails as the denial of its motion to depose four witnesses was justified; and 3) there is no evidence that there is any basis for reversal as to the substantive violations committed by plaintiff. Read more...

U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals, March 06, 2009
Izaak Walton League of Am., Inc. v. Kimball , No. 07-3689
In an action involving the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness Act, district court's grant of defendant's motion for summary judgment is affirmed where: 1) plaintiff's claims that the Forest Service violated the Act are time barred by the six year statute of limitations in the Act; and 2) there is no appellate jurisdiction over the appeal of the district court's order remanding the matter to the Forest Service to prepare an environmental impact statement assessing the sound impact of the proposed snowmobile trail. Read more...

U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, March 05, 2009
Latino Issues Forum v. EPA, No. 06-71907
In a petition for review of the EPA's approval of a state air-pollutant reduction program, the petition is denied where the EPA acted lawfully under 42 U.S.C. section 7509(d)(2) by not requiring implementation of "all feasible measures" into the program. Read more...

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April 28, 2009 in Air Quality, Cases, Energy, Environmental Assessment, Forests/Timber, Governance/Management, Land Use, Law, Science, Sustainability, Toxic and Hazardous Substances, US | Permalink | TrackBack (0)